Certainly in Ireland at least, there is a mechanism whereby students, with otherwise good grades, are allowed to "pass by compensation" a module(s) that they have failed.

For example, a student presenting with 12x5 credit modules has an average of 55% in 11 modules (with marks above a passing grade of 40%) but one module is failed with a grade of 36%. Such a student is usually allowed to pass the module "by compensation". Usually the threshold is 35% but sometimes 30% and there is a condition on the quality of the other results presented.

I am doing a quick study of the compensation rules in Irish third level institutions (as far as I understand all but one offer this mechanism), but am trying to understand the rationale for the mechanism's existence. I list two below:

  • Perhaps even early in a programme of study, a student specialises, excelling in one subject while struggling with another. The student should be rewarded for excelling and allow excellent performance in one area to 'compensate' for poorer performance in another.
  • A student who performs badly in an assessment task may, for whatever reason, have achieved the learning outcomes but not demonstrated them in the assessment. In particular, a module(s) with poor grades at odds with the rest of the student's module results might signal that such an event has occurred. Rather than requiring the student to repeat the module, the student is given the benefit of the doubt, and is allowed pass by compensation.

I am interested in hearing what other good reasons there are for having such a mechanism.

Thank you.

  • 2
    This seems pretty specialized to Ireland. Is such "passing" automatic in the cases you cite, or is an individual assessment made by a professor or committee? In other words is it a default or special situation?
    – Buffy
    Sep 26, 2018 at 13:36
  • 1
    @Buffy usually it is default. Conditions might include that the surplus (above 40%) in the passing modules is double the deficit (below 40%) in the failing modules. Sometimes there are rules within departments, e.g. no compensation in first year. Sometimes modules are deemed core or required and compensation is not possible in these modules. Sep 26, 2018 at 14:02
  • 3
    @Buffy - well, it is kind of like averaging it all together. Doing poorly on one homework assignment doesn't mean the student fails the course if all other grades are good...
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 26, 2018 at 14:02
  • 3
    @Buffy (and others) It's not specific to Ireland. The same principle exists in France, at least.
    – user9646
    Sep 26, 2018 at 14:05
  • 2
    In fact after checking, it was introduced with the ECTS, apparently in many European countries, in 2011.
    – user9646
    Sep 26, 2018 at 14:13

1 Answer 1


Compensation is used in (at least) some universities in the UK, too. The rationale is usually that although module learning objectives are not fully met, the program learning objectives are not sufficiently compromised, when only one module is failed with a near-pass mark. The meta-rationale is that we effectively choose between two "bad" things:

  • progressing or graduating a student who did not fully met the LOs
  • delaying progression / graduation for a year and asking student to repeat the module and/or resit the assessment

The first option feels like a lesser "worse" all things considered: student has a chance of picking the necessary knowledge later in other modules / programs, but they never have a chance to get a year of life back.

  • 4
    is a "module" equivalent to a "course" or closer to an "assignment"/"exam"? Sep 26, 2018 at 19:13
  • My experiance going to university to do electrical engineering in the in the UK is that a module is normally a course (there are exceptions such as projects) and normally (again there are exceptions) IIRC about 80% of the marks for a module were normally awarded based on the exam at the end, so failing the exam most likely means failing the module except in borderline cases. Sep 26, 2018 at 21:39
  • @WoodrowBarlow For example, "Advanced calculus" is a module (year or semester-long, one or maybe a couple of assessments). "UG Mathematics with Finance" is a program (3 years long, consists of ~20 taught modules + a project). Sep 26, 2018 at 22:39

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